Written by Grant Stevens
Chattanooga, Tenn., looking toward Lookout Mountain (center left). From left to right, the bridges are: the Walnut Street Bridge (with the Hunter Museum of American Art at its base), the Market Street Bridge (officially called the the Chief John Ross Bridge), and the P.R. Oligati Bridge.
Last week, National Trust staff members attended the annual Vanguard gathering hosted by Next City in Chattanooga, Tenn., which is where we are headed for our next edition of CityLove!
While Vanguard attendees and the National Trust staff worked to "collectively learn and think about how to tackle the challenges our cities face," they also spent some time exploring the city.
Chattanooga hasn't always been so beautiful. In 1969, the federal government declared that Chattanooga had the dirtiest air in the nation, and since then, the city has been on a mission to clean up its image. The road to recovery hasn't been easy (the city lost 10 percent of its population in the 1980s), but substantial private and public investment has turned Chattanooga around, earning it a new nickname -- "The Scenic City."
Now known for its many outdoor attractions like Lookout Mountain (not to mention its Incline Railway), the Raccoon Mountain Caverns, and Reflection Riding Arboretum and Botanical Garden, historic preservation is certainly part of the scenery as well.
A couple of our favorite preservation projects include:
The Walnut Street bridge, looking from the Bluff View Arts District toward the North Shore of Chattanooga. On the left is the Delta Queen Steamboat, one of our National Treasures.
- The Walnut Street Bridge, which connects the Bluff View Art District and the North Shore of Chattanooga. Spanning the Tennessee River and built in 1890, the truss bridge was closed to motor vehicles in 1978 and sat vacant for nearly a decade, before being turned into a pedestrian walkway. Fun fact: The Ruth S. and A. William Holmberg Pedestrian bridge connects the Walnut Street Bridge to the Hunter Museum of American Art, which has three distinct sections: the 1904 mansion, a 1975 Brutalist addition, and a whimsical 2005 addition.
- The Tivoli Theatre in Downtown Chattanooga, which draws you in with its large red, black, and white marquee made up of more than 1,000 individual lights. Built between 1919 and 1921, the Tivoli is now home to the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association and hosts touring companies throughout the year, remaining the heart of Chattanooga's cultural life.
Chattanooga is internationally known for the 1941 gold-record song "Chattanooga Choo Choo" by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. The Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel is part of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust.
- Trains are an important part of Chattanooga's history, even before Glenn Miller's hit song. However, in 1970, Terminal Station, the city's Beaux-Arts hub, sat vacant, but by 1972 local business leaders bought the building, renamed it the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and began a transformation. Today, the 24-acre site includes a convention center, hotel (where guests can stay in restored railway cars), restaurants, and shops.
- If we're talking about Chattanooga, we have to mention one of our National Treasures -- the Delta Queen, one of America's last historic overnight passenger steamboats and a National Historic Landmark. We at the National Trust working with local partners to pass federal legislation that would help the Delta Queen return to overnight cruising.
The Delta Queen was built in 1926, and is the last remaining authentic link to our country's 200-year tradition of passenger steamboat transportation.
In addition to its historic and natural legacy, Chattanooga was the first American city to have its own font-- Chatype, which was crowd-funded and launched in August 2012. You see it on street signs, in city documents, and even on the Chattanooga Visitor Bureau website.
Curious about getting involved with a local preservation group? We recommend starting with Cornerstones, Inc. in Chattanooga, or the Tennessee Preservation Trust, which works statewide.